06 Apr 2015

14. Far from the maddening crowd

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I would like to add some reflections concerning the issue of the non social facet of philosophy, raised by Arto Tukiainen. As a matter of fact, many contemporary philosophical practitioners have developed various approaches, methods and techniques, in dealing with their counselees, so that either in individual counselling, or in working with groups, or in working within organizations, philosophical practice comes to be chiefly regarded as a relational, social activity, where the dialogue plays a central role.

However, as emphasized by Tukiainen, philosophizing is also a solitary activity. In the schools of the late Antiquity, where philosophy was considered as a way of living and a practice of wisdom, this aspect of philosophy was prominent. Spiritual exercises were taught and recommended, and the philosophical teachings of a particular school could play a powerful and effective part in the daily life of the disciples only by means of their internalization.

In our world, which is quick-changing, increasingly complex and devoid, for so many people, of solid and living traditions to refer to - be they religious, spiritual or intellectual - it is often difficult to orient oneself. Therefore an important and challenging task for contemporary philosophical practitioners should be to encourage people to stop and think, to draw from the resources of their inner life, to learn to concentrate, analyze and clarify the problems they are faced with, and to develop their critical thinking. In order to nurture these inner dispositions and intellectual capabilities, solitude and silence, to be on one's own, "far from the madding crowd", is certainly helpful. However the hectic pace of daily life of most people does not foster the possibility to shelter, at least every now and then, in an inner hermitage-like situation.

In ancient India the ideal behaviour of the so-called third stage of life (which nowadays is called middle-age) was to retreat into the forest and meditate. After having fulfilled all his familiar and social obligations, men were free to withdraw from active life and devote themselves to their own spiritual progress. This ideal behaviour, which of course cannot be attained in the different historical and cultural context of modern society, may nonetheless show the importance of a solitary self-reflection, a practice which the philosophical practitioners should pursue for themselves and for those who address them.

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Silvia Schwarz

I am a scholar in Indology. My main interests lie in the Tantric religious traditions of medieval India. In addition to publishing a book and articles on these topics, I have also produced translations for the general reader of texts from the Sanskrit narrative and devotional literature. I obtained a PhD in South Asian Studies from the University of Vienna.

I am interested in philosophical practice and I am presently concluding a Masters degree in Philosophical Counselling at Ca' Foscari, the University of Venice."